The last several years have seen a transformational shift in society as we have moved from an era of information scarcity to one of information abundance. A generation ago, information was difficult to find, and disseminating knowledge to students was a major focus of schools. Now that information is readily available, schools must focus on more than just imparting knowledge to students. Schools must prepare students to find, filter, evaluate, and synthesize information from many sources, and use that information to inform decisions and collaboratively create new ideas and new solutions to authentic problems. Additionally, schools are increasingly focused on developing life-long learners, fostering the development of confidence, empathy, and perseverance, and connecting students’ academic experiences with authentic applications in their communities.
Technology plays a critical role in this process. In addition to providing access to the resources and tools for this work, ubiquitous access to technology can have many other benefits. It helps teachers individualize instruction to meet the specific needs of each learner. It helps students collaborate, create, and communicate innovative products that demonstrate their learning. And it helps schools engage students by tying their learning to real-world applications and the greater community.
To accomplish this vision, the school district must provide a robust, reliable, and predictable technology environment, and help teachers leverage the use of that technology in transformative ways.
Current State of Technology
Over the last six years, the Revere Local School District has focused on its use of technology, investing significant financial, professional development, and human resources. The 2015 strategic plan included a Technology Integration and Infrastructure goal to “implement and utilize STEAM that will support and innovate instruction for communication, collaboration, critical
thinking, and creativity.” This goal laid the groundwork for a multi-year focus on instructional technology and 21st century learning across the district.
A technology committee was formed in 2016 that included teachers, administrators, support personnel, and board members. The Future Ready Schools Framework was used as a guideline to assess the current state of technology, establish goals for moving forward, and craft a technology plan. This plan included 22 goals and associated action steps covering the eight areas outlined in the framework. Implementing all of these goals proved to be impractical, especially in the context of other massive district initiatives undertaken simultaneously. Rather than implementing the entire plan, the district focused on curriculum and instruction, infrastructure, and data privacy as key areas for technology growth.
Between 2016 and 2020, the schools implemented a 1:1 technology program, ultimately assigning an Apple iPad to each student. Extensive professional development opportunities were provided for teachers, including Apple teacher certification, the utilization of Apple learning and professional development resources centered around the Apple Elements of Learning rubric, and local staff support provided by two instructional coaches helping teachers with technology integration and application. The district established an Innovation Team, a group of teachers tasked with exploring innovative teaching practices that leverage technology. Team members, who represent all buildings and grade levels, commit to two years of professional growth through participation in the program and become instructional and technology leaders in their schools.
Meanwhile, the district constructed two new school buildings. Bath Elementary School serves grades 3-5 and Revere High School serves grades 9-12. These schools enjoy a robust technology infrastructure, with new network equipment and classroom technology throughout to support a technology-rich learning environment. Wireless networks were designed for the device density inherent in a school 1:1 program, and bandwidth capabilities were specified with video, multimedia, and other intensive applications in mind.
The two older school buildings, Richfield Elementary and Revere Middle School, received substantial upgrades as part of the facilities plan, but technology infrastructure improvements were minimal. They have working, but aging, network infrastructure and classroom technology. Additional investment will be needed in these buildings to bring them up to the same standards as the new schools.
In addition to using their 1:1 devices to complete learning tasks in their classes, students take advantage of a number of instructional programs and initiatives that specifically leverage technology in innovative ways. The high school currently offers three engineering courses
through the Project Lead The Way program, and intends to expand that offering to four courses in the next two years. Students also participate in robotics, coding, app development, graphic design, digital photography, and video production. Publication-related courses, including the school newspaper and yearbook, are offered as well. An AP computer science class is planned for the near future, and the high school is developing a maker space to be used by students. At the middle school level, students take coding and engineering classes. Both elementary schools also have STEM classes. All of these opportunities facilitate the development of technology skills while engaging students in creative work, critical thinking, and project based learning.
In the spring of 2020, the district took advantage of its robust technology resources and substantial professional development efforts to provide online instruction to all students in the midst of the COVID pandemic. During the 2020-21 school year, Revere teachers continued to provide remote instruction to 15% of the student population in grades K-5 while a similar proportion of students in the upper grade levels participated in remote online coursework through outside providers. At all grade levels, teachers taught quarantined students remotely for short periods of time, and even provided remote instruction with quarantined teachers working from home teaching students who were physically attending school. While many teachers were previously hesitant to adopt blended learning strategies, the necessity of the pandemic forced all teachers to employ these techniques. Many have continued to leverage many of these strategies to their teaching, even after returning to in-school instruction.
Technology support is provided by two technology support specialists at the district level. Their efforts are supplemented by staff members in each school who receive supplemental contracts to assist with technology. In 2020, an online help desk system was implemented, allowing technology issues to be managed centrally. While use of the system is far from universal, it does give district employees, parents, and students a single point of contact for assistance. Overall, technology support is responsive, and the support specialists foster positive, professional relationships with district stakeholders. The district does struggle with its response to urgent technology needs, and has difficulty providing “in the moment” support in all of the schools simultaneously.
2021 Technology & Learning Survey
In February, 2021, the district surveyed parents, students, and staff about their attitudes and opinions toward the use of technology to support learning in the Revere Local Schools. In each stakeholder group, there is a wide variety of opinions and viewpoints, making it difficult to draw conclusions about the perspectives of the school community as a whole. The following statements characterize the prevailing sentiments expressed in the survey responses:
Technology is important for student success.
Technology helps with tech skills, creativity, critical thinking, and navigating ambiguity.
Teachers use technology to improve student engagement.
Technology affects student communication skills.
Balance is needed in technology use.
The role of the teacher is changing.
Parents are concerned about screen time.
Students prefer MacBooks to iPads.
COVID has affected attitudes toward technology.
Technology for Teaching & Learning
In order for teachers and students to leverage technology to provide a more robust learning experience, access to technology must be ubiquitous and frictionless. The resources must be well-suited to the learning tasks and they must work reliably.
Goal 1: Continue to provide a suitable computing device for each student.
In the 2021 Technology & Learning Survey, stakeholders were generally enthusiastic about students’ access to technology, but many questioned whether the iPad is the most suitable device for all grade levels. High school students, in particular, expressed frustration for the limitations of the iPad, and many shared a desire to return to a 1:1 program based on MacBooks. While the district is committed to the iPad 1:1 program through the 2022-23 school year, the district should conduct a needs analysis to identify devices for students that best meet their instructional needs at various grade levels moving forward.
Goal 2: Maintain spaces and resources for technology needs that are not met by student devices.
In some instances, students need access to resources that exceed the capabilities of the 1:1 device. For example, students participating in robotics, engineering, graphic design, and STEM classes often need resources with larger screens, more memory, faster processors, and specialized peripherals. The district must anticipate these needs, provide access to these resources, and proactively work to sustain them.